“What are you guys up to?”
The question came from Berta the mail lady when she was making a delivery at my hunting partner’s place while we were unloading gear from his pick-up truck late in the morning on an early-season goose hunt.
I told her what we had been doing, even though she is incredibly observant and most likely knew the answer to her question before she asked it. She has a second job as a waitress, and when she takes your order, she addresses you with your mailing address.
“What will you be having to drink, 1018?”
She knows everyone, everywhere. She even knows the color of the painted numbers on my mailbox. And she has seen me in my yard, taking stock of my duck and goose decoys.
I can’t help but smile when I talk to Berta, but if she had caught me in the dark in this same driveway earlier, it would have been a little more difficult to put on a happy face.
In recent years, I have not been nearly as excited about the goose opener as I used to be. In spite of the good numbers of local Canada geese in our neck of the woods, it’s difficult for me to get enthusiastic when the temperature is well over 70 and it feels more like summer than fall. The need to drag out the goose gun is nearly eclipsed by the pull of grabbing paddle and board, or my fishing rod.
But my hunting partners do not lack in enthusiasm, and they were ready and willing for the season to arrive. Surprisingly, this year I was nearly ready, too. I gathered decoys, dug out shells and calls, and even loaded some of it in my car before I left for work the night before our hunt.
I may have been ready, but I was far from willing. I was tired. I had worked until nearly 10:30 p.m. and didn’t get to bed until midnight. When the alarm went off at 4 a.m., in spite of being a self-described “morning person,” I was not a “happy camper,” nor a “happy goose hunter.” My hunting partner, a college professor, was tired, too, as he had been preparing for school activities.
We arrived at our hunting spot to find our host’s lights out. He was supposed to be joining us on the hunt. My partner asked if I’d expressed our intentions to him. I re-read my text messages and found that I’d told our host we’d be arriving an hour later.
We were as quiet as possible while loading his ATV and trailer with our gear, but he eventually heard us banging around and joined us.
From there, the morning progressed as one would expect a day of waterfowl hunting to go. We set up in the dark. We discussed decoy placement. We watched a glorious sunrise. We listened to the world come alive with migrating birds, from tiny passerines to much larger birds, including sandhill cranes. We saw more cranes than geese. We marveled at the night sky and then, even after sunrise, the planet Jupiter, still shining brightly in the west-southwest.
We never fired a shot.
My mixed, perhaps melancholy feelings extend into the season itself. The temperature may be nearly 80 during the day, but it was below 50 when we headed out that morning. Summer had pretty much ended. Our flowers are done growing. The backyard garden has been reduced to weeds and dying vines. The geese we are pursuing are leaving us to deal with snow and ice and darker skies.
You can feel that backdrop even while enjoying the color in the woods and watching the field and shorelines come alive with those migrating birds.
I told Berta the mail lady that we hadn’t shot any geese. I said that without a hint of remorse, because when our excursion had ended and we were picking up decoys and heading home into the warming sun, my attitude had changed 180 degrees from earlier that day.
Berta wished us better luck next time. “You’re going to need something to write about,” she said.
I smiled as she drove off, knowing I already had something in mind. There would be plenty of time to bring home a goose dinner. The season was just beginning.